COMMENTARY | The Baltimore Orioles have a few holes to fill and questions to answer before heading to spring training next year.
The team needs a leadoff hitter, for sure, and some additional depth in the bullpen wouldn't be a bad thing, either. But chief among the O's needs (for a record 14th-consecutive season) is a starting pitcher who can be counted on to gobble innings and win games consistently.
As discussed earlier, if you want to win the World Series, and for everyone's sake let's assume that is the goal here, you need at least three starters who will log 180+ innings and win 10+ games. The good news for O's fans is that there have been a lot of years in recent history when, if the Orioles wanted to achieve this goal, they would have had to sign three starting pitchers in the offseason.
The free-agent market is ripe with pitfalls, and it seems there have been more failures than successes over recent years. We can all name player after player who in retrospect was grossly overpaid on the open market for the production he ultimately delivered: Pujols, Lackey, Crawford, Hamilton.
Signing free agents isn't easy, and you need to be careful. For smaller-market teams like the Orioles, especially, there are two main things you need to look for: consistency, because every player needs to provide that; and a bargain, or at least as close to a bargain as possible in the bizarro world that is professional sports.
We know for certain that the Orioles are not going to spend top dollar for top talent. That's not a put-down -- it's just the way it is. Accept it. So let the other guys throw big money at the Garzas of the world, who are only marginally better statistically than cheaper alternatives.
The Orioles can't afford to spend what it would take to get a pure ace if one were available, plus it's just too big of a gamble due to the numbers of years guys are now getting in their contracts. The team is better off focusing on a guy who is perhaps coming off of a down year but who can likely be counted on to produce short-term given his track record. Guys like these are, of course, still gambles, but slightly smarter ones.
The word on the street is that the Orioles are interested in re-signing Scott Feldman. OK, I guess, the more the merrier. But please do not let this signing be your only answer to a questionable starting staff.
Counting on Scott Feldman to reproduce his 2013 season is very much like what the Orioles did last season when they relied on Jason Hammel to reproduce his outlier 2012 season. That's the same approach that kept the team out of the playoffs for well over a decade.
Luckily, there is a different pitcher available through free agency who has won at least 10 games in all of the past nine seasons. (Feldman has only twice.) He has also pitched at least 200 innings in seven of those nine years (Feldman never has), and in the two years that he did not, he still stayed healthy enough to make 30 starts.
As you know from the headline, the pitcher is Dan Haren.
Despite Haren's inflated ERA last season (4.67), his WHIP (1.24) was still strong and not far off of his career average (1.19). Plus, his second-half numbers (6-4, 3.52) were far improved over his first half, and he pitched much worse at home last season (5.52 ERA) than he did on the road (3.99).
The Washington Nationals signed Haren to a one-year, $13 million contract before last season. Given his 2013 numbers, it seems likely that the Orioles can get him for less than that this offseason. (I'm thinking maybe $10 million, plus incentives. I'd even consider two years, but, hey, it's not my money.) Again, Haren's a gamble to be sure, but he's a smart one.
If you don't think the Orioles need to add someone significant to their starting staff, please take a look at the Detroit Tigers, because that's what it takes. If you think you can beat more talented teams like the Tigers with less talented players, I'm not exactly sure what philosophy you are following. Perhaps luckism?
The Orioles will never be able to outspend the big spenders, so they will always need some measure of good fortune, but it should come in the form of a young player having a breakthrough season (see: Kevin Gausman) rather than by signing an established player and expecting him to do something he's already proven he's unlikely to do.
Would signing Dan Haren make the Orioles the favorite to win the American League East next season? Not a chance. But failing to add a pitcher of at least his caliber will surely lengthen their odds of being successful in baseball's toughest division.
Now, about Jim Johnson becoming a starter…
Joe Cooney has been a professional baseball writer for nearly 20 years, covering the Orioles, Rockies, Cubs and more. He grew up and still lives near Baltimore, Md.
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